5 + 1 QUESTIONS FOR SUMITA DAWRA
It was the insights she gained while posted at the backward and Naxalinfested district of Karimnagar that led Sumita Dawra to write Poor But Spirited In Karimnagar. A 1991batch Andhra Pradesh cadre IAS officer, Dawra now heads the economic wing at the Embassy of India at Beijing. She tells Supriya Sharma about what she learnt on the job.
1. What made you pick Karimnagar as the subject of your book? ?
I was posted as collector and district magistrate of Karimnagar district for over three years. It was my most challenging assignment. The district was poor, backward and a hotbed of Naxalism. But I learnt a lot from the people of Karimnagar while implementing development schemes there. I saw how capacity building of communities helped achieve results quickly. Drop- outs returned to school, tenth class pass percentage shot up from 66 to 89 per cent; there were positive results in ground water recharge, even cotton farmers changed their cropping pattern to maize. It was all possible because of the people of Karimnagar, who taught me what could be achieved within the system, even while giving me lessons on what was wrong with it.
2. Could you share some insights you gained on the job?
As I learnt on the job, I realised it was more important to involve people in working towards goals that improved their lives, and empower local communities. Given the present framework of governance, I feel that people can be empowered most effectively by sharing information with them and helping to make them aware of how to improve the lives of their families.
3. What have been the rewards of your profession?
My job gives me a tremendous sense of fulfilment, an op- portunity to excel, autonomy to plan my work and achieve set objectives. In the districts, it was a challenge to one’s creativity to strategise ways to motivate communities, inspire one’s own team of officers, motivate the vast population of government functionaries, and keep public representatives well informed to achieve targets.
4. What would you advise someone who is starting out as a bureaucrat?
Look at the difference your work can make to the people and plan your work by thinking backwards from the goals you wish to achieve. Implement programmes to achieve targets that will make life better for the poor.
5. What were the challenges you faced frequently during your time as a collector posted in Karimnagar?
I had to be careful while moving around in Karimnagar, as it was overrun by Naxalites. Due to regular incidents of violence, there were many schools and primary health centres where government staff did not attend work on regular basis. Implementing strategies to bring everyone back to work and motivating them to deliver services was one of my biggest challenges at the time.
6. What prevents efficient implementation of polices?
Each one of us has to be accountable to the system and do our duty. We cannot blame the system when we ourselves may not be contributing sincerely to our job, no matter what our position.